Simon O'Toole

Crikey! Down to the final two in Boron! Good luck Mark!

Favourite Thing: I love sitting down with other scientists to figure out how the Universe works. Whether it’s how a planet formed or what a star is made of and why, I love putting the pieces of the puzzle together, brainstorming ideas and then putting our best ideas forward.



I went to Penrith South Public School (1982-1988), and then Penrith High School (1989-1994).


I studied at the University of Sydney, and completed science degree with honours in physics (1995-1998) and then a PhD in astrophysics (1999-2003).

Work History:

I spent three years (2002-2005) working at Bamberg Observatory in Germany.


I currently work at the Australian Astronomical Observatory.

Current Job:

I’m an astronomer!

Me and my work

I look for planets orbiting other stars, help other astronomers use big telescopes, and speak to as many people as possible about astronomy.

I’m a member of the Anglo-Australian Planet Search team that has discovered almost 40 planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. We use the Anglo-Australian Telescope near Coonabarabran in NSW to look for the gravitational influence of planets on the stars they orbit. We use the laws of planetary motion to figure out how heavy the planet is, how far it is from its star, and whether or not its orbit is circular or slightly elliptical. For some planets, we try to take an image of them directly using the Gemini Telescope in Chile. I am also looking for planets that orbit two stars at once with some amateur astronomers around the world. It’s all heaps of fun!

The other part of my job is to help Australian astronomers use the Gemini Telescopes in Hawaii and Chile. These telescopes have eight metre mirrors and are very complicated to use, with a lot of highly specialised computer software and instruments. I help astronomers plan their observations and check whether the telescopes can do want they want them to do. This can be challenging at times, since people are always looking to push the system to its limits in order to get the most out of it!

Finally, a slightly less official part of my job is speaking to as many people about astronomy as possible. I regularly speak to amateur astronomy societies about planets orbiting other stars and the chances of life in the universe, but I also visit primary schools and get to speak on the radio about astronomy news stories. This part of my job I really enjoy as its lots of fun!

My Typical Day

Every day is different, but I’m often analysing new observations, solving tricky technical problems, as well discussing the latest results with my colleagues.

An astronomer is not a typical person and so doesn’t really have a typical day. We often obtain new data without even having to go to a telescope far away, as someone else takes the data and sends it to us. This means we do lots of data analysis on computers, which is usually a combination of maths, physics, statistics and a little engineering.

Each day we use computers quite intensively, and often write our own programs to do the analysis we need. Knowing some computer programming languages is really useful, as there aren’t many programs available to do astronomical data analysis!

Astronomers are generally very collaborative, so at work we sit down over morning tea or lunch and discuss the latest results or problems we’ve encountered. For many projects, we’ll arrange specific meetings to discuss results and plan new observations and analyses.

What I'd do with the money

I’m not really in it for money, and I haven’t really decided, but I’ll most likely use it to visit schools to speak about astronomy and science.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Happy talkative astrogeek.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

What is the most fun thing you've done?

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

What did you want to be after you left school?

An engineer!

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Tell us a joke.

Sports followed

Soccer, cricket, and a passing interest in rugby league.

Favourite team

Sydney FC